The Messengers Review
The Messengers tells a truly nutty little ghost story. It has one of the silliest plots I've seen in a long time, one that makes almost no sense at all, and by all rights it should be an awful movie. I can easily imagine it directed in grating MTV style by some young hack and starring a cast of bored TV actors. That it isn't awful, that I can just about recommend it as a rainy Sunday afternoon DVD rental, is a testament to the talent that's been undeservedly lavished on it.
This is a film about a haunted farmhouse - a creaky old shack of a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere that's lain empty for years and has now been bought by former city slicker Roy (Dylan McDermott). He's moved his young family in and optimistically staked their future on his being able to raise and sell a crop of sunflowers.
Yes, Roy's not the brightest bulb in the box. He's not dissuaded when he's attacked by the flock of sinister crows that roosts on the roof or even when he's made a good offer on the property by the local real estate agent, who's played by William B Davis, the Cigarette Smoking Man from The X-Files. I don't know about you but if the Cigarette Smoking Man appeared at my door and made an offer on my flat, I'd accept it.
Roy's wife Denise (Penelope Ann Miller) goes along with his scheme and their toddler Ben (Evan and Theodore Turner) is too young to care but teenage daughter Jess (Kristen Stewart - Jodie Foster's child in Panic Room) senses that something is creepy about her new home. What's with the large patches of damp suddenly appearing on the walls? And why is little Ben always staring at things that aren't there?
Of course ghosts are behind it all and this being an Asian-influenced Hollywood ghost movie, the ghosts are creepy, pale figures that scuttle across the ceiling and do what ghosts always do in these types of movies: try to grab you. What they do with you after they grab you is still to be established.
The first half an hour or so of The Messengers gave me a very bad feeling. I thought it was going to be another of those dreadful, minimalist jump-fests where people you don't care about wander around getting grabbed by ghosts, like The Grudge and Boogeyman.
Mercifully, it doesn't go down that route. Instead, The Messengers follows in the overheated, American gothic tradition of movies like What Lies Beneath, The Return and Gothika. A plot slowly emerges out of all the jumping and creeping about in the dark and we eventually learn that the ghosts have a purpose.
Unfortunately the plot that emerges is daft to the point of delirium and it's riddled with more holes than I have time to list. Here are the main few: Considering their purpose, why do the ghosts do most of the things they do for the first hour of this movie? Where do they keep trying to drag Jess and Ben and why do they do this? Why do the ghosts only appear to the kids when they're on their own, thus ensuring no one will believe them? Why do they actually clear up their mess in one scene before the adults get back? Why don't they appear to the parents? The trailer tells us that kids are more open to the supernatural but the movie doesn't and during the climax the adults can certainly see the phenomena.
Not for the first time at a ghost movie, I wondered why don't the ghosts just write the bloody message they want to deliver to the living on the wall? They can pick stuff up so why not pick up one of the toddler's crayons?
As brainless as this movie is, it's very nicely directed by the Pang Brothers - Danny Pang and Oxide Pang Chung, the Hong Kong film-makers behind Bangkok Dangerous and The Eye. Having picked up some critical success for their Asian films, they've moved to Hollywood, where they're currently working on a remake of Bangkok Dangerous starring Nicolas Cage.
Like many foreign directors who've gone to LA, the Pangs haven't exactly picked the best script to showcase their abilities to a wider audience. However, their abilities shine through regardless. The Messengers looks fantastic and contains some beautifully creepy scenes. There's a memorable moment where one of the ghosts slowly materialises behind Jess and Ben in a hallway at night - this makes as little sense as everything else in the movie but it still sent shivers up my spine.
The Messengers is also quite well acted, especially by Kristen Stewart, who creates some real sympathy for her troubled young heroine. The script, though hopeless as a ghost story, does pay a surprising amount of attention to its characters, giving them back-stories and believable relationships - unusual in a horror film. Strange that writers Todd Farmer (Jason X) and Mark Wheaton (the forthcoming Friday The 13th remake) go to so much trouble to give us a credible family and then stick them in such a ludicrous story.